Madison Pollack | March 13, 2018
There is a latent threat behind each frame of Fever Ray’s video for “To The Moon And Back:” the setting is a large abandoned building whose sparsely placed neon tubes compensate for a lack of overhead lighting. We find our protagonist encased in glass, and she is a fright to behold; her face looks to have been recently carved into, with red encircling her mouth and eyes; her skin is an inhuman shade of white, and she jolts to life surrounded by smoke in a series of twitchy, cross-eyed frames. She is Fever Ray’s Monster in the tradition of Dr. Frankenstein and his unnatural creation. Both come to life alone, abandoned by their creators, hideous in their appearance. Both wander into the dark, lacking any preparation for the world they’ve been born into, not knowing what to expect.
Darkness is a defining characteristic of the gothic genre, for its symbolic and atmospheric connotations with the absence of knowledge, security, and goodness. Darkness is used to obscure, to prevent the good that comes from enlightenment. It is a container for that which is strange and unknown, where the unnatural comes to life. Simply put, a dimly lit setting rarely bodes well for a protagonist. Gothic tradition would therefore lead a spectator to expect the worst when the monster played by Fever Ray leaves her cryogenic casing to discover the shadowy terrain constructed by Karin Dreijer (the woman behind Fever Ray) and the video’s director, Martin Falck. She’s just been born and no one yet has told her what to expect from blindly wandering through the dark. No one yet has told her what she looks like. What could possibly go wrong?
In her essay “Tabloid Trainwrecks Reinventing Gothic Literature,” Carina Chocano describes gothic as the genre of fear and claims, “our fascination with it is reliably revived during times of anxiety and upheaval.” It does often resurface, a touch nihilistically, during revolutions and periods of scientific and technological advancement when the landscape of reality has been changed to the point where visions of the future have become obscured. As it happens, Karin Dreijer has recently gone through big life changes; after divorcing her husband, she came out as gay and made the album Plunge to reflect the many discoveries she’s made while exploring her sexuality. Twice in the video, the Monster sings “Hey, remember me?” But the Fever Ray we remember from videos eight years ago had long blonde hair and looked more the witch than the monster. As our monster is born into her new world, so has Karin Dreijer been reborn into a sexual terrain and an identity that is wholly new to her. In the face of the unfamiliar, there might be plenty to fear. It is therefore significant that Fever Ray’s Monster strides so boldly into the darkness and is rewarded with pleasure rather than pain.
Charlie Fox’s New York Times article “Why Frankenstein’s Monster Haunts Queer Art” claims that “when you’re gay and grow up feeling like a hideous misfit, fully conscious that some believe your desires to be wicked and want to kill you for them, identifying with the monster is hardly a stretch: A misunderstood beast finds solace in the solitude of the woods, but seems to endlessly face the wrath of the torch-bearing, small-minded inhabitants in the world beyond.” So much queer art is preoccupied with the fear of being perceived as monstrous, or with feeling monstrous, and for good reason. The dark atmospheres of gothic literature externalize the feeling of the unnatural, and abnormality is meant to be inherently negative when linked with the absence of light. However, Fever Ray’s universe reinterprets the connotations of darkness, of gothic horror, by subverting the expectation of danger. When the monster is discovered and led by her ponytail to a group of BDSM-style dominatrices, the mutual reactions are not fearful or threatening. As the imposing creatures circle her with ropes and a whip, the monster smiles. What ensues is the strangest tea party ever, one that culminates in the Monster gleefully reacting to being urinated on. Presumably she’s into that: you can read it on her face. Each time things look like they may take a frightening twist, they spin toward silly instead. It’s all funny, but the joke isn’t on the weirdoes partaking; it’s the incongruity in the juxtaposition of the sense of danger insinuated by darkness and the actual joy and pleasure being experienced by the monster. It’s Frankenstein, but fun.
Fever Ray’s interpretation of the gothic storyline therefore presents a kind of queer utopia. Darkness remains a container for what is unnatural or strange within a heteronormative society that demonizes and fears kink and fetish culture. However, the video for “To The Moon And Back” suggests that nothing about abnormality is strange to someone untaught and unconditioned. There are no rules presented about what is normal and what is deviant with regards to sex – the only rule seems to be that everyone enjoys themselves. In a realm consisting solely of “abnormality”, there is no such thing as abnormal. And as darkness contains that which is unnatural in the gothic tradition, there is no longer any reason to be afraid of it. Fever Ray’s Monster might look like an aberration, but in the world of the Plunge videos, that doesn’t mean there’s any reason to stay hidden.
Madison recently graduated from NYU and is currently working towards an MSc in Playwriting at the University of Edinburgh. She is particularly interested in the ways in which women are represented in popular culture and has been “almost finished” with season two of Fargo for half a year.